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Do you find it hard to say “no”? Do you find it difficult to express your needs, wants, feelings or opinions? If so, you’re not alone.

Many of us struggle with communicating assertively. Assertiveness means being able to share one’s needs, wants, feelings, and opinions in a confident yet considerate manner. When I teach seminars on learning how to say “no,” it’s evident that many people confuse assertiveness with aggressiveness.

Aggressiveness is communicating one’s needs, wants, feelings, and opinions in a way that gives no consideration to the other person’s needs, wants, feelings and opinions. Do you see the difference? While assertiveness is done in a spirit of respect, aggressiveness is done with an “I’m superior and right and you’re inferior and wrong” attitude.

Another communication style that’s often used is passive aggressiveness. Have you ever given someone you were angry with the silent treatment rather than talking about what was bothering you? Have you ever been pleasant to someone’s face only to criticize them behind their back?  Have you ever tried to make someone feel guilty in order to manipulate them into doing what you want? That’s passive aggressiveness.

Now, before you start to judge those who tend to communicate aggressively or passive aggressively, remember that we’re all guilty of using these unappealing methods on occasion. Depending on the situation and who we are with, most of us sometimes resort to using one of these less effective communication styles. It’s a sign of our low self esteem or low confidence in a particular situation.

The most effective communication style is assertiveness. This style is necessary for healthy relationships and good mental health. At the core of assertive communication is strong self esteem and high self awareness. In other words, you have to believe you have the right to express yourself and, in order to express your feelings, you have to be able to identify what it is you’re feeling.

Unfortunately, many of us are too afraid to voice what we need, want, think or feel because we have been taught that this is unacceptable. Some of us don’t even know what we want or need because we’ve spent our lives quieting our inner voice in order to fit in. Or, maybe we’ve suppressed what we really want because we’re afraid of upsetting our parents, our spouse, our friends, or our co-workers.

Self esteem and communicating assertively is something a lot of us must work on. When I took a self-esteem class years ago, I was surprised and comforted to notice the presence of many professionals, including teachers, firefighters, and business professionals. We were all struggling with our distorted views of ourselves.

I found it powerful when our instructor shared not only his insecurities, but also this list of basic rights which every person is born with:

I have the right to express my feelings.

I have the right to express my opinions and beliefs.

I have the right to say “yes” and “no” for myself.

I have the right to change my mind.

I have the right to say “I don’t understand.”

I have the right simply to be myself without having to act for other people’s benefit.

I have the right to decline responsibility for other people’s problems.

I have the right to make reasonable requests of others.

I have the right to set my own priorities.

I have the right to be listened to, and taken seriously.

I have the right to make mistakes and feel comfortable about admitting to them.

I have the right to be illogical in making decisions.

While it’s important to remember to stand up for our rights, it’s equally important to remember that everything mentioned above must be done in a spirit of love and respect towards the person you are communicating with – they were also born with these rights.

So the next time you struggle with saying “no”, or your wrestle with whether you should voice your thoughts or feelings, read through the list of rights and remember, you were born with the right to express yourself!